Current testing and contact tracing is inadequate to prevent a second wave of coronavirus after schools in the UK reopen, scientists have warned. Increased transmission would also result from parents not having to stay at home with their children, they say. Researchers said getting pupils back to school was important – but more work was needed to keep the virus in check.
The government said plans were in place to ensure schools can fully reopen at the start of the new school year. “Local health officials, using the latest data, will be able to determine the best action to take to help curb the spread of the virus should there be a rise in cases,” a statement said. Schools have been shut around the world as countries used lockdowns to control the spread of Covid-19. It is estimated 1.6 billion children have been kept out of the classroom.
In the UK, schools closed on 20 March, except to children of key workers or vulnerable children. On 1 June, they began a limited reopening for early years pupils, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. Schools are due to restart for all children in Scotland on 11 August and across the UK in early September. But every step taken to open up society makes it easier for the coronavirus to spread.
Researchers from UCL and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used computer models to see how the virus might spread in the UK as pupils returned to the classroom and their parents were more able to go back to work or resume other activities. The study assumes children are less likely to catch – and therefore spread – coronavirus and that some parents would continue to work from home.
As first reported in June, the combined effect on pupils and parents would be enough to cause a second wave if there was no effective test-and-trace programme. This would happen around December 2020 and would be twice as big as the first peak, unless the government took other actions such as reimposing lockdown.